It's Called Madness
I'm riding the bus home tonight, racking my brain for particulars. He had a helmet, I'm thinking. It's just after 1am, and I'm sitting forward on the last bus to my house. Today was the Torchlight Parade, and a detail from the night of madness is nagging at me. Finally I decide to go up and talk to the driver– to distract myself, to get another opinion, anything. Nice guy, this fellow. Younger, late thirties, with a family; he just got back from traveling to Yellowstone. I see him every Saturday night.
"How was your day today?"
"Oh, hey. It was surprisingly easy," he responds, despite the intensity of the crowds. He describes some technicalities of timing and direction that led to his shift being an unexpected cakewalk. I chat briefly about the general quality of my own day– incredibly hectic but incredibly enjoyable– before getting down to brass tacks.
"Hey, so something happened on my last trip that I'm confused about."
"Okay, yeah." He leans in, curious.
"So I was doing the 7, southbound, and halfway through the route a guy gets on with a bike. A Latino-looking guy, maybe Hispanic."
"When I get to the end, he forgets his bike, because nobody's on the bus, and the bike is still there. So on my way back into town, I look for him, thinking he'll be out there waiting to get his bike back."
"But there's another 7 right behind me, and we start skip-stopping. Nobody gets on my bus asking about the bike, so I start to think he must be on the 7 behind me. Musta been on one of the stops I skipped. But my 7 only goes to Fifth and Jackson. The 7 behind me goes all the way through downtown and out to the U District."
"Uh huh okay,"
"So I'm thinking about this bike, and this guy, and at Fifth and Jackson I tell everyone, this is our last stop but there's another 7 coming five minutes behind me, and he'll go all the way through downtown. I tell them this, and I tell them, I'm actually going to wait for this next 7 with you guys because I want to talk to the driver about something. And I mention, I want to talk to him something about this bicycle, find out who's bike this is. And as soon as I say that, a guy on my bus says, that's my bike!"
"And I say, what? And he says, yeah, that's my bike, right there, and I'm like, I really think this bike belongs to someone else. This skinny Hispanic guy from earlier, I remember him. But this guy, this heavyset black guy who looks completely different, he's saying this is my bike!"
"Yeah. And he's saying, I would swear on my sister's grave, and he starts telling me all this stuff about the bike that turns out to be true, it has no front brakes, the back brakes are bad–"
"-And the thing is, he's wearing a helmet! He even has a bike lock in his pocket. He takes it out and shows it to me. And I'm thinking, am I crazy? Am I completely crazy? He's going to the next 7, and I tell him, I think the guy who owns this bike, that guy is going to be on that 7, but he's like, doesn't matter, this is my bike, I can't believe you thought this belonged to some Spanish guy."
"Did you tell him the bike had been on your bus for an earlier trip already?"
"Yeah, he said he fell asleep, and he was glad to get the bike back, but he didn't say anything about it when he got on! I don't get it. I was a hundred percent sure it was the Latino guy until he started talking. I looked at him for a long time and finally I said okay, 'cause what can I do, and we shook hands. I mean, he had a helmet, so he must be, why else would anyone wear a helmet, and he totally walked over to the 7 bus stop for the next 7 to downtown."
"And the other guy was probably gonna be on it!"
"Definitely, if that was his bicycle!"
"I would have loved to been on that bus!"
"Exactly, either they would be fighting or... I wish I could get on that thing right now just to find out. I've been sitting here the past fifteen minutes, trying to figure it out in my head. I think I'm going crazy. All I know is I'm never telling anyone there's a missing bike ever again!"
"Well, a something similar involving a bike happened to me recently."
"Okay," I said.
"I was driving the 71, by Virginia, also very late at night, and there's only a few people on the bus. There's a bike on the bus. A guy gets off and I'm positive it's the guy who put the bike on. But he starts walking the other way, outside toward the back of the bus. I honk the horn a little but he keeps going. And I see him cross the street behind the bus. So I lean out the window and yell, dude! You forgot your bike! You know? And he can't really hear me so he starts walking closer, and I tell him again, your bike, don't forget your bike. And he says oh, that's not my bike. And he leaves. Then I turn to the inside of the bus and say to everyone, who is the owner of this bike? Does this bike belong to any of you guys? And they all said no! It was none of theirs either! Nobody took the bike!"
Welcome to the Twilight Zone, was all we could come up with. That or we're both nuts. As he spoke a shooting star streaked across the clear night sky. Now that had to be real– both of us saw it! We marveled at its brilliance. Oh, the things that happen in the middle of the night!
We won't tell anyone I took it for a test drive.
As I pulled my 358 into the layover at Second and Main, I noticed someone had forgotten their bicycle on the rack. It was definitely on the junker side of things, a red jalopy of a bicycle with peeling tape and a chain rusting into orange. I looked at it for a moment and thought, well, what of it, as I stepped outside and removed the bike from the bus. I had fifteen minutes of break time before the next trip. Hoping the owner had a sense of humor, I decided to spend my break taking it out on a "test drive," as it were, enjoying the sights and sounds of Pioneer Square while I could.
Of course I'd return the bicycle to the bus and leave it on there for the rest of the day before sending it to Lost and Found, but for now the poor red puppy looked so lonely. I barely fit on the thing, but that's okay. I tooled through Occidental Park, nodding at a few familiar homeless faces. I drifted over to the viaduct and wandered underneath its steadfast bulk, enjoying the shadows it provided, trying to conceive how the waterfront would look without it.
Somehow I found myself inside Metro Customer Service, still with the bicycle. I can't imagine why I felt compelled to go in there at that moment. Maybe I needed some timetables. As I walked up the steps to the doorway to exit, carrying the bike over my shoulder, two young black American boys, teenagers, simultaneously approached the door from the outside.
Yes, they were dressed in the stereotype that's been offered up to them for the last twenty-five years or so– sagging, low-riding jeans and spotless athletic wear, oversized basketball shoes with horizontal laces, reflective shades on one, the other with a flat-billed hat tilted at a rakish angle.
It's an unfortunate fact that media representations disproportionately link this image with that of the irredeemable urban black "thug" figure, a depiction so tiresomely pervasive we run the risk of forgetting that black culture is so much more just than hip-hop culture. There is nothing inherently oppositional about large sports jerseys and low-slung pants.
The two boys hold the door open for me. I step through, saying, "thanks guys."
I smiled deeply as I walked away.
Note: that's my good friend Eric in the photo. We worked at Capitol Records in Hollywood together.
Rest Peacefully, Lost Faces
I recognize his face and gait, but what happened to the mangy hair? He's still scruffy, but his haircut looks like that of just a regular joe. In my head I called him Grizzly Alan, and I haven't seen him in more than a year. A smart fellow, about my age, clearly educated, and probably homeless. Today he's walking slowly past the bus stop on 45th, gaze lowered in thought.
"Hey, maaan," I call out. I pronounce "man" with emphasis, stretching out the vowel, giving it the weight of a proper name. Letting him know I recognize him.
Jogged out of thought, he sees me and replies, "Oh, hey!"
"Haven't seen you in a while!"
"Yeah, you remember me."
"Of course. Good to see you're still hangin' around." Referring to his haircut: "I see you lost some hair!"
"Yeah, it works better at job interviews."
"How's that been goin'?"
"Aauuh," he says.
"It's a process, right?"
"I feel like it's a numbers thing. Apply for ten, hear back from one of 'em, you know?"
"Yeah," he says, pronouncing it as in, "that's true."
"Hey well. It's good to see you again."
With urgency I added, "Stay strong!"
The faces come and go as the months turn to years. I'll be riding the ferry, taking in the horizon line, when the thought will surface: whatever happened to Juan and his new baby? Or Angel, with the bathrobe and bruises? Do you remember that face on Pine, outside the mall, the first-generation African man who for years never asked for money, but instead stood yelling angrily about how Seattle Police are communist, and about how the Frye apartments evicted him? Did you ever see him on his "lunch break," where he would go and sit quietly inside Nordstrom, in complete opposition to the angry facade he projected on the sidewalk? I wonder about these faces, whole and real people, whom I now no longer see. Do they know I'm thinking of them?
Recently I was at the base, preparing to walk out to my bus. Several drivers were discussing a well-known passenger, Gaylen. An angry man surrounding a child inside, he could be an insufferable handful of epic proportions. The last time I saw him was a couple years ago.
"Gaylen? Oh, he's dead."
"What?" I said.
"Yeah, he's gone."
"Oh, that piece a shit? Man, I say good riddance," said a third driver. "That duu' got on my bus so many times, and I just wanted ta kick those crutches out from under him each time. What a' asshole."
"Aw, he's my buddy!" I said.
"He was, no, no. I couldn't stand that dude!"
"We'll just have to find some other assholes!" quipped a fourth, who'd been listening. They laughed. Part of me wanted to cry.
I gazed across the room at Vicki, a driver and former social worker with a heart of gold. She knew where I was coming from. We looked at each other ruefully. It wouldn't be any use trying to change their minds. I know they certainly couldn't change mine.
My mind flashed back to an ancient moment from years ago. Venus, another driver, walked up to me, excited. "Nathan, there's this passenger who I actually really like, even though everyone hates him. His name is Gaylen, and he–"
"Has two crutches, yes I know! Venus, you're amazing!"
I'd heard horror stories about the guy but hadn't met him at the time of the conversation. Listening to Venus was an inspiration. She seemed thrilled in the sense of having come upon a secret; her vision didn't stop short at a reactionary appraisal, but kept going. She could see through the initial to a more complete picture, and in so doing had found something familiar in a man so outwardly different from her. Aren't we all the same, searching for happiness each in our own imperfect ways?
Mister Gaylen, I hope now you feel less pain, less occasion for hate, and perhaps the glimmer of a joy which eluded you in this life.
Here They Come
We're headed out to the Valley. I pull up to Martin Luther King Way, across from Franklin. It's a dingy gloom tonight. The dealers are on both sides of the street. Various shapes lumber about in the periphery, shifting figures in front of lights, signs of life at the laundromat and beneath the overpass. A small crowd is waiting at the bus stop, maybe five of them, dark shapes against the darker night. Looks like mostly younger guys, tall and lanky, post-high school or so.
Groups of kids are a strange animal. Some years ago on the 7 a cadre of thirty teens beat up a young couple, sending them both to the hospital. Older drivers will remember gang initiations in the back of the 106; the new member would be beat to a pulp, but had to remain silent. This is why some passengers will tell you they never sit behind the articulated section. When I first trained on the 7 I rode one of the late-night trips, and the driver flew past a stop with a crowd of teens waiting. "If you see a group," he said, "don't pick them up. Keep going."
Pulling into MLK now, I take a deep breath.
As I open the front doors I'm still waving thanks to a person stepping out the back. "Thank you," I yell back at them. Only takes a second. Then I turn my attention to the guys at front. As soon as they see me they all start laughing. I don't know why, but they're screaming with glee, one slapping his knees, another struggling to keep his food in his mouth.
"Come on in, gentlemen!" I say loudly, leaning back with a smile. When they hesitate: "don't be shy!"
Bro Number One pimp rolls on board and offers me a handshake, one stroke and firm.
"Ey, one second," says the second, reaching in his backpack for change.
"Aw, you're cool," I reply, meaning take your time.
It's hitting me now: all of these guys know me already, and they're happy to see me. Man Three is older, and I recognize his overjoyed face: "heeeyy," we yell together, trying to ascertain the last time we saw each other. I feel like it's been a while, but he reminds me of a moment just earlier this week. "I saw you runnin' by the train station, it was your off day. You had tha shirt on." He's referring to an Others Like Us t-shirt I was wearing, which I learned about through Real Change; I found it fascinating that he noticed.
"Yeah, it was another lady driver there that day after you ran past, and we was talkin' about you. She was sayin gooooooood things about you–" several octaves contained in that "good"– "you got respect, bro."
"You should know it! People be lookin' up to yo ass, dawg. Talkin 'bout yo' attitude no matter who it is, you always polite and happy, no matter what the route, and, and," more laughter, "she was like, da first time I saw him, is he even old enough to... can he shave? Does his mom know he's out here???"
The remaining fellows board without incident. I remember a smile forming on one I didn't recognize, his slitted eyes in a quiet grin, taking me in with newfound appreciation.
"I'm serious, dude," Man Three continues. "She had good words for you, real good words. You're always the best. Listen, I'ma stop blowin' you up though!"
"No, man, comin' from her, comin' from you, that means a lot! 'Cause you guys know how it is!"
We wrapped up the conversation and he went to the back to join his buddies. They're hollering to the high heavens back there, but it's okay. I feel safe. They know me. I'm among friends.
"Is this yo' phone?" one yells to another, handing up a pink phone from the floor.
"This doan' look like mah phone," the other replies, as they all collapse in manly giggles.
A half hour or so later, at Holly, a man with a guitar and long silver dreads steps out, still wearing sunglasses at midnight. I'd seen him the night previous riding the bus back from my art show– the faces you get to know when you don't use the car. This man plays at 88 Keys on Sundays and weeknights ("them comedians get the prime spots, Friday and Saturday"). As he leaves he says, "man, people really love you. Tha's good. Keep doin' what you're doin'."
Another man expresses largely the same sentiment later on, albeit in what practically sounds like a different language: "Ay yo. You da man, hannlin yo' bidness on da 7. You got it goin' on, bro. Respek. Hannlin yo bidness on da 7 in the nighttime ow-ah, you be doin' it like it weren't no thang. Sheeeit. Dassit. You got mah respect."
At Othello the boys in the back deboard, taking time to wave. "Thanks buddy! Love ya!" yells the older one.
There was nothing to worry about.
It's All Happening!
Photo by Kristina Moravec.
Now this is what we call late notice!
I'm in a show opening July 17th! Yes, Thursday, as in tomorrow! I'm only just discovering this myself. It all came together quite literally, and quite beautifully, in a matter of hours! I'm thrilled at the work by myself and others which will be on display, and at the chance to take part in it all. Thanks to many powers that be, you'll be able to find me there from at least 6:30pm to 9pm– though I'll likely be there as early as 5, and might stay 'til the event's wrapup at 10! Stop by for a chat, and take in some art– I have six new 35mm images there, along with a six-foot hand-drawn colored-pencil triptych!
Kate Alkarni Gallery is located inside the Seattle Design Center in Georgetown. This event (and its parking lot!) are free. Details, directions and more here.
You can probably guess the degree to which I like talking to people. I love it. But we all have our quiet moments. There are certain cloudy days which have an indescribable air of melancholy. It’s almost comforting, walking under that grayish-white sky, green leaves and open roads in your periphery. I think it was a Sunday. No one in sight, and you’re ambling down a residential street. You feel that very specific sense of nostalgia which is both sad and oddly satisfying, walking around the white-gray-green world, looking at sidewalks and small trees. You see yourself as if from afar, ambling alone, letting yourself relax into completeness. Half your mind is in this zone of cloudy-day introspection, the other half self-aware, contemplating why and how this frame of mind surfaces. You are a character in a movie. A melancholy tune is playing. You put your hands in your pockets and walk like Gregory Peck, wishing the ground were metallic so your shoes could make those classy and authoritative clicking sounds with each step, but even if the ground were metal, you reflect your rubber-soled walking shoes wouldn't make any sound anyway.... And there, before you know it, the nostalgic wholeness of being has vanished from you, fluttered away while you were thinking too much.
It was in such a headspace that I once got on a 41 some time ago. I was dressed incognito, on a day off: black hoodie sized small, dark blue jeans, and scuffed dress shoes. Walking about downtown I inevitably run into people I know, or they into me. That's magical, but today I wanted some solitude. As much as our culture celebrates the active over the passive, there is a benefit to taking time to ponder. Reflection doesn't happen when you're being distracted by new stimuli. One of the great preoccupations of the twenty-first century is the distracting of ourselves out of the present, usually with technology; this is why I won't get a smartphone. I try not to retreat into the cozy confines of diversion, that addictive place where I don't have to confront my own thoughts. Let me rather take the dive, that I might feel something real.
I sat down next to an African man, first generation, neatly shaved and dressed. Leaning back into the seat, I enjoyed that wonderful sensation I imagine many operators feel when they board a bus they're not driving– the bus is moving, but I'm not responsible!
"You're not working today?"
It was the man next to me. Time to turn back on.
"Hey! You recognized me!" I said, with pleasure. Must be a passenger I didn't remember. His gentle smile brought me right back to the excitement of hearing from others. How was his day going? How did he recognize me, though I was in my elaborate Nathan disguise? He responded by describing how memorable it is when I'm driving, and how could he forget such an experience? Naw, I said, trying not to blush. Yes, he replied, laughing. Don't be silly! He expressed his appreciation for how I announce all the stops, how I'm patient with people, answering questions and the rest, but most of all he appreciated that I was kind to immigrants. It's a big deal, he stressed, for people who are new here, because it's hard to get around, confusing, and sometimes you need someone who won't judge you, who will give you a few extra moments, as it can make all the difference in the world in feeling welcomed.
This led to me mentioning my own background, coming from parents who immigrated here and growing up in a home where multiple languages were spoken. It only seems natural to be kind to the folks on the street; I see echoes of those dear to me in their questioning eyes.
His name was Mesfin. Language is important, we agreed, noting our shared multilingualism and the value of such, how it expands one's perceptions of ideas and people. I mentioned a friend of mine, Abiyu, also from Ethiopia, and how his three young sons were already studying their native language as well as English, French and Spanish.
"Does he live in Bellevue?" Mesfin asked.
"Oh my goodness!" Who could've guessed we had a mutual friend? Abiyu is one of the great bus drivers, in my opinion, one of those men you find in life whose every word you hang onto, because you know he thinks before he speaks. The quiet voice, eyes twinkling with verve and wisdom.
"Yes, language is important," Mesfin said. At this point he began telling me a story, and the longer he spoke, the more rapt with attention I grew.
Some time before he was sitting next to me on a 41 in Seattle, Mesfin once lived in a village in rural Ethiopia. He spoke four languages: Amharic, two local dialects more specific to his village, and a fourth language nobody really used, but he knew it anyway. Being multilingual was not unusual, but not too many neighbors knew that fourth language. It was a remnant from his ancestry, relatives he hardly kept in touch with.
In the mornings Mesfin would rise early and walk alone on the dirt path to a nearby bridge. This bridge was special, because from it you could see the most spectacular sunrises. Never anyone else around. When you're raising a family, time alone gains a different and specific value. Watching the predawn light come to blazing life was Mesfin's way of carving out space for himself.
Word had gotten out from nearby villages that invaders were on the loose. A nomadic tribe was moving from here to there, killing the village residents as they went. Panic settled in: were they near? Were they far? Were they rumor?
They were real. There they were now, suddenly, black figures against the dirt path one morning, weapons on view, blocking the way to the bridge. The sky was just starting to lighten, when the leader of the bandit tribe spoke.
"Where are you going?"
It was the fourth language, the one nobody ever used.
Mesfin responded fluently, in the same tongue: "I'm going to watch the sunrise from a bridge that I like."
"How do you know our language?" Confused and surprised. It's from my relatives, Mesfin explained. An uncle, something, the
details of ancestry hazy but undeniable. There was a political figure of some repute Mesfin knew, whom the nomads knew too. Through further conversation Mesfin was able to prove it.
The leader stood there for a minute. Mesfin waited under the lightening sky. Life, and nothing less, was what hung in the balance.
"Okay," the bandit said finally. "Because you know our language and because you know this man, we won't kill you right now. Today you can watch the sunrise. But you cannot come back again. If you are here tomorrow, we will kill you."
Mesfin recounted the man's words as being spoken plainly, matter-of-fact, with the deadened flatness and ugly apathy you hear in
truly violent men. After that Mesfin never walked that path again.
I looked at the man in the seat next to me, struck like a thunderbolt by how little of this world I know. I was looking upon the same being who one morning wasn't sure if he had seconds or minutes to live, couldn't be sure if his family would ever know him again.
"Wow," I said, at a stunned loss for words. "Wow. It is so great you knew that language, or else I would not be sitting next to you listening to this story on the bus right now!" He smiled. "I am so glad," I continued, thrilled that he chose to speak to me. "That you knew that fourth language."
"Yeah, it's important," he said.
The Glow II
At Letitia I put the lift out, saying goodbye to a couple I haven't seen in some years. He's a Vietnam vet with a summer job transporting convicts between different prisons cross-country. She remembers me from the 5 and likes my attitude. They're on their way to the hospital and the bank.
"Good luck with everything,"
"Oh, it'll be easy. All I gotta do is activate an ATM card."
"Oh." I thought it was some sort of trying experience they were heading into. "Piece of cake!" To her I say, in reference to an earlier conversation, "and I hope your infection's gone next time I see ya!"
A woman's been watching from the chat seat. "Is the next one Mount Baker," she asks. She had moved up to the front at Genessee, calmly, no rush. A rare Caucasian passenger on this corridor, I'm thinking thirties, some sort of European descent, dressed in a ponytail and women's business casual, a trim collection of grays and tailored lines. Demure.
"We're dangerously close!" I reply. "It's three more stops, if I'm not mistaken."
"Are you going, let's see. To the airport?"
"No, I'm just getting the 48."
"Oh. Goin' up to the U District?"
She nods. "I'm going to UW."
"That's my school!"
"Oh, great. I'm going in for an ultrasound today!"
I can see how excited she is. She's brightening up by the moment, opening and lightening up, relaxing into the space. I can't place her accent. Her eyes sparkle with the joy of getting to be herself– we censor ourselves in public sometimes, and she's realizing with me she doesn't have to.
"I'm so excited to see my baby. He's already six months old– well, inside, I mean!"
"That's wonderful. So much to think about. Names, colors... do you know if it's a boy or a,"
"Have you started thinking about names?"
"Oh, we already have a name. My husband is good with names. He reads a lot!"
"I can't wait to see what he looks like!"
I hesitate a millisecond before speaking, but then I think, why not share. She's sharing. "Yeah, my mom is Korean and my dad is white, and people often say I look either like a boy version of my mom, or an Asian version of my dad."
She smiles, her laugh rippling into the morning sunshine. "That sounds great! You got the best of both!"
"Oh, I dont know! I hope so!"
"Speaking of, I have a friend who is also half-Korean, actually half-Korean and half Jewish. He's from Eastern Europe."
"Very nice. My friend just went to Romania, the Ukraine, Moscow,"
"Oh, wonderful." She seems excited to hear about someone traveling to parts of Europe other than Paris and Rome. "I'm from there. Well, nearby, the Baltic States."
"Oh, excellent. My training is in photography, so I get very excited about traveling!"
"You should definitely go to the Baltic States!"
"I will!" I say, pulling up to Martin Luther King Way.
It occurs to me as I slow for the red light that I have every intention of doing so.
"Congratulations again," I say as she's getting off. "You have the glow!" I emphasize the line with a hand gesture, hoping she knows what I mean.
She looked at me for a moment. In a few short minutes we had reached a space where it felt comfortable to say such things. "Oh, thank you! You too, you do too!"
I suppose I meant the glow of being pregnant. Sometimes we find people who absolutely radiate vitality– it seems almost reductive to call it positive energy, though I guess that's what it is. They might be pregnant, or engaged, or children, or just those rare souls whose well-being explodes out of them for reasons too large to decipher.
A young man once got on my 70 so overwhelmed with joy he rode to the terminal just so we could finish talking about it, parsing it out in words, attempting to solve the mystery. He'd been torn up over the loss of his girlfriend for six months, and today he had a conversation at a "combination tanning salon slash video store," chatting with the owner about the history of the establishment. The owner was pragmatic in a humorous way: people like suntans, and they also like videos. There you go.
Something about that conversation, in combination with the act of stepping back outside to the sun shining down on him, had filled the young man with an ecstatic, tangible elation which suffused his entire being, and he felt strangely, randomly freed from his grief, as if alerted for the first time to all the greatness going on around him. The rest of the world had been taking place for the past six months, and now he could see it again. We spent the ride and my break at the terminal trying to capture its reasons for happening now, today. Could we bottle it and summon it at will in the future? Could we live in it always? The answers to such queries were outside the scope of our comprehension.
Suffice it to say it was great to live amidst the Glow, talking to Mrs. Baltic States, to live and learn in its presence, coaxing something new out of both of us. She walked over to the 48 stop and I drove up Rainier, spreading the good feeling one person at a time.
"Next one is Aurora," I announce from the 44 route. "Aurora Avenue, where you can get the E Line. That's the old 358."
People get on, and people get off. As we pull away, I say, "here we go!"
I always say something like that. Variations on a theme: "Hang on tight;" "We're movin' out;" "Off we go;" and on occasion, generally upon leaving somewhere like 3rd and Pike, "let's get outta here!"
"Here we go" was never intended by me to be funny or endearing or light-hearted, although I'm happy many people read it that way. I started saying this stuff when I began trolleys, and noticed the incredible amount of torque they have. I said "here we go" because I was terrified of people completely collapsing as soon as the bus moved. There's nothing better- not even most cars- at getting up Seattle's steep hills than our trolley buses, and they can fly. I announced "here we go" and the like to let people know they were on a different type of vehicle, which moved differently. I've since realized people fall down on all coach types, and thus announce regardless of what type of bus I'm driving.
On the 44 now, and older man comes forward, maybe late fifties but still lithe, gray hair and tanned, hanging on the stanchions.
"So I'm on a 747, right?"
"Yeah," I say, phrased as a question, hoping for more explanation. Sometimes I say "yeah" when I have no idea what people are talking about.
"I'm on a 747 from Anchorage to Seattle, when the pilot comes on– engine's died. Lost the engine."
"Whoa! Were you losing altitude?"
"Oh yeah! We're in freefall. No thrust. He restarted the engine in flight."
"Yeah, but the pilot came on, and said all the stuff you're sayin,' 'hang on,' here we go,' all the same stuff you're sayin.' It made me think of it."
"Oh, right on."
"But yeah, I'm thinkin,' hang on, hold on tight, this is no problem! I fished in the Bering Sea for twenty-one years!"
"Must have pretty good sea legs!"
"Yeah, when you've worked the Aleutian Islands..." I look at his brown eyes and see generations of time. He tells me briefly of a life at sea. Then he says, "I'm sixty-three years old, and I'm goin' up again."
"You must like it!"
He shakes his head ruefully.
I see him rubbing his thumb and forefinger together and it's my turn to shake my head. "Yeah, that'll do it," I reply. "Money has a way of talking."
"I got colon cancer. I'm goin' up this time and stayin' up there. This' my last time in Seattle."
"Well, shoot! I'm glad you got on my bus!"
"Hey, life is good," he said, as we approached his stop ("Here's Fremont Avenue, by the zoo").
"Have a good rest of the time in Seattle!"
The last statement was a surprise. There was an unaffected genuineness to his well-wishing. He didn't wait for a response, already walking away now, carrying on with the unstoppable business of living life. I watched him for a moment, reflecting. He had every justification, as it were, to be miserable. But he wasn't. I closed the doors and began rolling away. My mind was still on him as I said into the microphone, "that's Phinney Avenue coming up, Phinney, for the route 5."
I offer the following in counterpoint to the more sobering thoughts on violence from last week~
A woman in her twenties with a terrific, full-bodied Afro boards, all smiles and legs. It's nighttime on Capitol Hill during Pride week. The white girls at the front see her walk past, and one almost falls forward as she hollers out,
"Don't ever ruin your beautiful hair!"
Meaning, of course, don't straighten it. The atmosphere is one of Bacchanalian revelry, a Dionysian celebration of the marginalized and unfairly disparaged. Tonight judgment is suspended. I drive slowly through throngs of color and line, shapes and faces and skin all around me. Some of us are sober. I smile, listening to the seesawing lilt of inebriated youngsters just behind me. One of the girls calls out,
"Do you go to like Third and Pike?"
"I go to Third and Pine... d'you wanna go Third and Pine with me?"
"Oh my gosh yes. Will you tell us when you get there?"
"I will so tell you when we get there!"
"You're so AWESOME!"
"I wish you rode my bus everyday!"
The Afro lady steps out the back, and the girl who spoke earlier screams, "bye, Gorgeous!" Amidst the movement of bodies in the back of the bus I see the glimmer of her teeth forming a big smile, embarrassed but excited.
The girls up front, all in their early twenties, are accompanied by a boy of the same age. Sitting near them is an African-American man of roughly sixty. He and I wear big grins as we listen to the youngsters hold forth:
"I kinda wanna go on Oprah's show, just so I can get a car or something."
"You know what'd be funny? If Oprah and T.I. were dating!"
"Is that true, what?"
"Now that's a power couple!"
"It seems like just a thing T.I. would do for publicity,"
"D'you think Oprah's hot?"
"Oh shit, my rainbow pop's falling out."
"You'll just have to suck it off."
"What made you think of Oprah and T.I.?"
"Suck it off, whoo!"
Into the mic I tell the crowd, "All right. This bus is turning into a 7. It's time to become a route 7, going all the way to Rainier Beach. If you're going to the Valley tonight, you are on the right bus. Once again, we just became a 7..."
"That's where we're going, right? Rainier Beach?"
"Oh. Aren't those like the same?"
"Slightly different places!" I chime in. "Both great, though!"
"Who do you like more, Oprah or Rosie?" One girl asks another.
"I don't like Rosie."
"Wait, Rosa Parks?"
"Rosa Parks is awesome," I interject.
"Rosa Parks represeeeeent!"
"Can't nobody hate on Rosa Parks," says the older black man.
"Fuckin' love that girl," says the girl with the collapsing rainbow pop.
"She's the lady that sat at the back of the bus, right?"
Me: "No, she sat at the front of the bus!"
"I like sitting at the back of the bus."
"Wait, this is Rosie O'Donnell?"
"Totally different Rosie," I quip, and the black man and I can't help but laugh together. It's bordering on an inside joke; clearly Rosa Parks means a lot more to he and I than it does for our rambunctious friends. Or maybe we would just express our regard for her differently. But that makes it all the funnier.
"Yeah nobody hates Rosa Parks," says one of the girls. "She sat down in the front and the cop was like you gotta move, and she was like FUCK THAT!"
"That's it, word for word, I think!" I say.
"We got da recreation right here! What what!"
"She was all like fuck that, I ain't movin for shit! You guys better REK-A-NIZE!"
"That's, I think that's, yeah, the exact transcription!"
They deboard at the (in)famous McDonalds stop, clearly having no idea where they're going. I lean out the doors, asking them if they know where they're headed. I step out to point out the C-Line stop and explain the way to Alki. This prompts one of the girls to say, "thank you." The other expresses her thanks differently: "You're hot." Then she howls, in pleasure and ecstatic pain:
"YOU'RE SEXY, BUS DRIVER! YOU'RE SUCH A SEXY BUS...AAAUUGGHH! GOD!"